With Spring Break just around the corner, the volume of crunches, situps and Russian twists you will see in the gym will go up exponentially. Everybody is preparing for their moment of glory on the beach and the 6 pack (not the beer kind…at least not for our purposes) will lead the way. And although these may be the standard 6-pack-developing exercises, they may not be as effective as you hope. They also may be doing more harm than good.
While I can’t promise you that the exercises I’ll share in this article will lead to a shredded-wheat belly, I can promise they are more effective for the functional adaptation of the core. After all, we can do situps until the cows come home, but sadly, spot training for the sake of losing fat in a particular area doesn’t work (this subject will be left for another article).
The purpose of the core is to help you stabilize your midsection and connect your upper body to your lower body. The core is not limited to your 6 pack, though (the technical name for 6 pack is rectus abdominis). Also included in your core musculature are your obliques (muscles on the side of your abs), spinal stabilizers, glutes and lats. Yup, all of these muscles groups help stabilize your midsection and connect the lower body to the upper body.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what muscles are really involved and what the core should be doing, here are some exercises that will help develop the system (and have a better chance of giving you that 6 pack as well):
While all of the carries in the carry family are important in their own right, the suitcase carry seems to help with overall core development at a higher level. Because of the contralateral weight distribution, your body has to stabilize from side-to-side. While holding the weight on side, the opposite side oblique, glute and lat have to really turn on to keep you from falling over. For most back-for-your-buck, use a decent size weight and move slow with your walk. Reminder: pretend like you’re walking a tight rope. If you fall off, game over!
Yup, you read that right. This is an actual exercise and it will humble the strongest among us in a heartbeat. Again, the goal is to be methodical with your movement. The deadbug does not allow you to simply fly through it because it also requires some thought. Moving your opposite arm and leg independently of each other requires a crosslink connection in the brain that most of us don’t use on a regular basis. Give it a try and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Reminders: keep your head up and don’t move your other arm and leg!
The TRX is used in a variety of ways. However, sometimes it’s the most obvious ways that can be overlooked, especially when it comes to try functionality. The fallout is a great anti-extension exercise. As you extend your arms out at the bottom of the fall, your core has to engage more and more. This is more real-life than something like a plank (which are awesome, don’t get me wrong) where you simply hold the position for an amount of time. If you do the fallout correctly, it will “teach” our core to activate on demand so that it can stabilize when it needs to. Reminder: keep your glutes tight while in the extended position!
Start training your core to be useful, not just pretty. Ironically, the useful exercises are better at the 6 pack effect than situps and crunches. However, they require much more effort.